MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Bobby Hauck figured UNLV wasn’t ready for a major upset like the Rebels pulled in 2003 against Wisconsin.
Still, he was satisfied with how his team rebounded after taking a first-half flurry in UNLV’s 51-17 loss to No. 11 Wisconsin on Thursday night.
"We weren’t ready to come in here and beat a top-10 team, certainly," Hauck said. "But with that being said, we’re going to be all right. I like our guys. I like the way we play. There were a lot of negatives but there were a lot of positives to build off of."
UNLV, losers of 10 straight on the road, showed some of the same jitters that coach Hauck’s squads have struggled with after he finished his first season 2-11.
New starting quarterback Caleb Herring was a notable exception with two second-half touchdown passes that cut the lead to 51-17 in the fourth. He kept plays alive with his feet and showed poise under relentless pressure, but didn’t have many options and finished 18 of 27 for 146 yards.
"Caleb Herring made a lot of mistakes but he did some good things," Hauck said. "Our guys ran hard. I thought we held our own."
UNLV failed to convert its first nine third-down conversions, and one second-quarter sequence highlighted the Rebels’ struggles.
Wide receiver Phillip Payne committed a 15-yard personal foul for a late hit, center Robert Waterman snapped the ball over Herring’s head for an 8-yard loss, Payne dropped a pass with no defender nearby and Nolan Kohorst pulled a 52-yard field goal wide left.
"It was good especially after we got down there in the first half and didn’t capitalize," Hauck said. "We had the late hit penalty on the block at the end of the route. We just didn’t capitalize in the first half. It was a shame."
Russell Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for another in his Wisconsin debut and Montee Ball scored four times for the Badgers, who built a 51-3 lead.
"There was a lot of space. They have a lot of good running backs, including the QB. When you give them space, they’re hard to tackle," Hauck said. "Everybody has trouble with these backs and we certainly did, too."
All the attention was on Wilson, the North Carolina State transfer who is using his last year of eligibility at Wisconsin in hopes of getting the Badgers back to the Rose Bowl or better.
UNLV (0-1) had some good moments. Herring’s two second-half touchdown passes forced the Badgers to send most of their first-team defense back on the field in the fourth quarter.
"We did some good things as a team. It definitely was an environment that you want to play college football in. I think a lot of the young guys handled it well," Herring said. "You can’t come out of a loss like that and be satisfied. But that was a good team and they’re ranked for a reason."
In some ways it was a typical Wisconsin opener. The Badgers scored on their first drive of the season for the sixth straight year. In some ways, it was very different: the temperature at kickoff was 90 degrees.
Wisconsin (1-0) made it 13-0 when Ball took a handoff, busted through two arm tackles and high-stepped to avoid Quinton Pointer’s desperation dive for a 22-yard touchdown. It was 20-0 when Wilson found top target Nick Toon for completions of 39 and 15 yards before James White punched it into the end zone from a yard out.
Ball, who finished with 63 yards rushing, also scored on a pair of 1-yard runs, making it 51-3 midway through the third quarter.
"They’re good with the football in space," Hauck said. "They run hard and they’ve got a make-you-miss ability and then can get the tough yards when they have to. They’re impressive."
Kohorst hit a 37-yard field goal, but Wilson dropped back to pass on the next possession, broke to the right and saw no pursuit behind him for his 46-yard TD scamper as the Badgers led 37-3 at halftime after a field goal. Wilson finished 10 of 13 for 255 yards.
"He’s a good athlete," UNLV linebacker Princeton Jackson said. "One thing is he got rid of the ball in three seconds. That’s what Wisconsin did well."